What is your name and your current occupation?
I’m Neal Warner and I am currently directing a live stage show called Rock & Roll Rehabwhich features a live band playing in sync with animated music videos projected on a large screen above the stage. It’s been an ambition of mine since I was in Junior High School and saw the re-release of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. It recently finished a run at the Hayworth Theater on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Before I went to work as an inbetweener at Hanna-Barbera during my summer vacation between graduating high school and starting college I was a published cartoonist in the “Free Press” and in “underground comix”. Ironically, the only job I ever had after creating the underground comic character Pizza Fella and starting full time in the Animation Industry was as a pizza delivery guy while attending San Diego State.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I wrote and directed the John Lennon themed stage show, A Day In His Life, which was represented by the William Morris Agency and followed that with the Rock & Roll Rehabshow, both of which include a lot of animation as part of the multimedia projection. I published PaperCuts, The Illustrated Lyrics Magazine in the 80s which included a two song record insert and featured the songs’ lyrics in comic book form, I produced several animated music videos, one of which won the Gold Plaque in Music Video at the Chicago International Film Festival and was included in a screening of “The World’s Best Animated Music Videos” at the First Los Angeles Animation Celebration and I produced The Tooner’s Trip Disc enhanced CD and The Tooners’ Rocktasia CD (available on iTunes). Those are my favorite “pet” projects but I’m also proud of my work on The Heavy Metal Movie, Ducktails The Movie, the two Rugrats Movies, The Puff The Magic Dragon TV special and some of the many TV commercials and series I’ve worked on either as an animator, an assistant animator, a director or as a timing director for studios such as Disney TV, Klasky-Csupo, Marvel, Murakami-Wolf, Filmmation, Film Roman, Sony, Universal, Fred Wolf Films and many others.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was a cartoonist whose work was published in my junior high school newspaper, the cover of the yearbook and animated my first film, The Jogger, in the ninth grade. In high school I was the school’s staff “political” cartoonist as well as a paid contributor to professional underground comics and in college I was elected into Sigma Delta Chi, the Society Of Professional Journalists for my political cartoons in the CSUN campus paper. Although I animated a three minute Super 8 film in junior high and another one while in a San Diego State animation class I really didn’t have any aspirations to enter the Animation Industry. I wanted to make my own films and planned on a career in advertising.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Woodland Hills, CA where my family moved to be close to my aunt who was an animator that started at Disney in the fifties. The West San Fernando Valley was an “industry town” where many people worked in the film industry and in animation. My parents became friends with John Stephenson and his family when my brother was in the Indian Guides with his son. John Stephenson is the voice of Mr. Slate on The Flintstonesand many other voices. My aunt got me into Hanna-Barbera right out of high school as an inbetweener. I left when classes started at CSUN in the fall and planned to never go back but you have to be careful what you do for a first job, it can haunt you for the rest of your life.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I was part of the industry that always seemed to get called to start a project. I was at the start of Disney TV, Klasky-Csupo, before The Simpsons got their series and many other places that were just starting up. I’d always see the same people yet once the studio got established and the shows were sold a whole new crowd would take over and the people at the beginning would leave. I think it’s a different mind set, the difference between a sprinter and a marathon runner. Since the “turn of the century” and the outsourcing of 2D animation to overseas and the computer, every job is very different. There are no “typical days”.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The best thing I do these days is answer questions like this. People seem interested in the “good old days” of Classic 2D Animation. I taught at Cal Arts at the beginning of what is now called “The Second Golden Age of Animation” and have a unique perspective on the Animation Industry of the late Twentieth Century. I’ve written about some of my experience in animation in my book The Official Rock & Roll Rehab Handbook (Amazon.com) and I’m preparing another live stage show that incorporates animated films. It’s the old animator’s version of “taking the show on the road”.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The absolute worst part of a career in animation is looking for work in animation. Even the most steady jobs are temporary since movies eventually are finished and television series stop production at the end of each season and have to wait to see if they are renewed. There is no such thing as “loyalty” in the Animation Industry and the artists are Gypsies that move from job to job and from studio to studio. Another terrible part of the job is the constant lying from management. I suppose they don’t want their staff quitting to move on to another production before they’re through with them so they’ll never tell you when they’re planning to lay you off so you can never really prepare. The only exception I’ve ever found in the Animation Industry of someone who is straight forward with his staff is Fred Wolf.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
These days I animated for projects outside of the major studio system so I do things the old fashion way and animate using pencil on paper with an animation disc. I then scan the drawings into Photoshop for clean up and ink & paint and use AfterEffects for compositing to video. I’ve used Director 8 for interactive multimedia for CD ROMs but they’re now obsolete. I’ve used Flash for certain jobs but I don’t like the line quality or lack of control for inbetweens (I don’t animate straight ahead).
The lack of steady money is a major problem if you’re trying to raise a family. The last job I had with a major studio ended in August and I was paid the same rate as I was in the early 90s.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have had opportunities to meet some of the greats of animation. I’ve worked for Fred Wolf, Charles Swenson, Chuck Jones, Bill Melendez, Gabor Csupo and Ralph Bakshi. I’ve had lunch with Marc Davis, I’ve met Bob Kurtz and Ward Kimball, I was breifly related to Harry Holt and I’ve worked with great animators such as Corney Cole, Bob Zamboni, Jim Duffy, David Brain and Larry White.
Describe a tough situation I’ve had in life, or in my animation career? Except for chronic unemployment (in the Industry) over the past decade my animation career was amazingly successful considering I started as an assistant animator at Murakami-Wolf Films and became the Director of Animation for Fred Wolf Films. I have a plaque from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recognizing my work as the director of the Emmy Award winning animated series Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, awards from several film festivals for my own films, have a pretty nice entry on IMDB.com and credits on a half dozen movies and several dozen popular TV series. Considering I was never going to go back to the industry after leaving H & B for CSUN I’ve done alright. Life in general has been much better than my animation career but I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging. I’ve been very lucky.
I think I probably covered all that in the first question but you can see the Rock & Roll Rehab Show online
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
My wife of 27 years can actually do that cherry stem trick. I even had a gold cherry stem tied in a knot as a necklace for her. I’m also the originator of Baby Teeth Jewelry as well. My hobbies are playing lead guitar in a rock band since I was twelve years old, writing and recording my own songs then creating fully animated music videos illustrating them. Check out the Rock & Roll Rehab Show on Youtube.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
When my aunt took me around Hanna-Barbera when I was a kid and told all the old, white haired animators (all named Lou for some reason) that I wanted to be an animator (which I didn’t) and ask them to give me advice they all told me: “Get out while you can, Kid. Go to college, get an education and get a real job.” Timeless advice.
Click on PLAY ALL to see the entire fifty minute show.